Why do you put scotch in a decanter?

It’s mostly for looks.

When you decant red wine, you are trying to do two things: separate the sediment from the wine and allow the wine to breathe. Over time, sediment in the wine will separate and settle at the bottle of the bottle. By decanting, you are pouring the wine into another container, the decanter, so that you may leave that sediment behind in the bottle. This is not an issue for whisky.

As for letting the wine breathe, it releases some of the wine’s aromas, which have been trapped in a bottle for however many years. By letting it breathe, the flavors are released and the wine tastes much different than straight out of the bottle. You want as much surface area as possible, the more wine that touches the air, the better. It’s recommended that you let it breathe for half an hour to an hour and never more than eight.

How does that apply to scotch? I don’t believe it does. While it’s nice for the scotch to breathe, the reality is that you will likely not finish a decanter of scotch within eight hours. If you do, well then the added subtlety produced by decanting would likely be wasted on you. 🙂

While it’s good to let scotch breathe a little in your glass, with or without the addition of water, putting it in a decanter is mostly for looks (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). Sometimes it’s nice to have a display in which you have whisky in a decanter without all the commercial labels. So if you do want to decant, by all means go for it. Chances are it won’t hurt your whisky any more than if you left it in the bottle.

What should you look for in a decanter? There are three crucial things to keep in mind when selecting a decanter. First, make sure there’s an airtight seal that doesn’t let air escape or enter. When you you have a decanter with a good seal, it’s not much different than the original bottle itself (you do get a little aeration when you transfer from bottle to decanter, so pour gently).

Next, makes sure it’s big enough! 750ml, the typical bottle, is a little more than 25 ounces. Make sure your decanter is large enough to fit the whole bottle if you plan on pouring it all in. If you don’t, then you can use a decanter of any size.

Finally, make sure it’s lead free crystal. Most new decanters will be lead free but it’s always important to make sure. Why are leaded crystal decanters dangerous? Over time, the lead can leach into the whisky to very dangerous levels.

Here are a few decanters that I really like:

Ravenscroft Crystal 70oz Beveled Orbital Magnum DecanterThe Ravenscroft Crystal 70-Ounce Beveled Orbital Magnum looks amazing. I don’t own it, it’s enormous (70 ounces is a lot of ounces) but it just looks awesome. To give you a sense of size, 750ml is just 25 ounces. So this magnum decanter can hold nearly three bottles of scotch making it completely impractical but I still wanted to show it to you because it looks great. 🙂

Ravenscroft Crystal Beveled Blade DecanterThe Ravenscroft Crystal Beveled Blade Decanter is a beautiful lead-free crystal decanter that has the classic crystal pattern for the lower half of the bottle but is clear at the top. I really like this 34 oz. decanter (enough to fit an entire Liter) because it nice and clear at the top, like a bottle, so you can see the beautiful colors of the scotch but it pays homage to the classic decanter style at the bottom.

OK, onto more realistic decanters.

Ravenscroft Crystal Thomas Jefferson DecanterThe Ravenscroft Crystal Thomas Jefferson Decanter is a modern looking lead-free crystal decanter that comes in a beautiful gift box that makes it perfect for any Scotch lover. The design is a reproduction of a decanter owned by Thomas Jefferson and is a massive 46 ounce decanter that could hold a liter of Scotch (and more!). It doesn’t have the distinctive sharp lines of classic decanters and it’s lines are similar to that of a bottle itself, albeit a beautiful crystal one (rather than a class one with labels).

Ravenscroft Crystal Larchmont DecanterThe Ravenscroft Crystal Larchmont Decanter looks stout in its photo but it has a 30-ounce capacity, which is over 887 milliliters (the standard size for a bottle of whisky is 750 milliliters), so it’s more than up to the challenge of holding your favorite spirit. It is lead-free crystal and sits at 10.5″ high and 5.5″ wide. It is also shipped in a gift box so it’s perfect for a gift if you’re looking to spend less than $85.

A Bormioli Rocco Capitol Decanter 23.75 oz is a nice lead-free decanter that looks gorgeous. Only one downside, the decanter can only hold about 700ml, so comes in 50ml short of a standard 750ml bottle. The look is elegant and much nicer than you’d expect at this price tag.

Dublin Crystal 8 Piece Whiskey SetIf you’re looking for a decanter set, the Dublin Crystal 8 Piece Whiskey Set is a gorgeous set that has a decanter, six double old fashioned (DOF) glasses, and a tray. It’s made by Godinger, a company that been making beautiful glass and silver pieces since 1972 in New York. This set is lead crystal.

If you aren’t in the market for a whisky decanter set, all of these decanters make for fantastic gifts with paired with some Riedel Single Malt Whisky Glasses! 🙂

Decanters make a fantastic gift for any whisky aficionado. While you don't need to decant whisky (in fact I don't recommend it), having a beautiful glass piece in your library can be a fantastic accent to any whiskey cabinet.

Photo Credit: katinalynn

68 thoughts on “Why do you put scotch in a decanter?

  1. Traditionally it is seen as poor form to leave a cigar ring on when smoking in the company of others. The reason was that it was seen as being a way of showing off, almost like saying “look at the brand of my cigar (and how wealthy I am…)”
    It is in this same spirit that decanters for scotch became more common. They enable the person receiving the drink to better appreciate the taste of the scotch, the timing of the offer, the context of the celebration and the value of the friendship rather than the brand (and monetary value) of the scotch.
    One cannot blame the gentlemen of today for proudly displaying the beautiful scotch bottles on offer – the artistry and quality are truly astounding. But a scotch decanter truly is a gentleman’s salute to a civilised time when men drank like men, wore hats, shaved with a straight razor and smoked from a pipe.

  2. @Mr J
    Mr. J – Traditionally, the band on the cigar was created to protect the white gloves that gentlemen wore in formal attire from tobacco stain. As such, it was not considered bad form at all to leave the band on. If it is considered bad form today, that is a modern invention. Tobacco stains on one’s white gloves, however, were definitely uncouth.

  3. Just wondering, why lead free? I received a spirits decanter as a gift (Royal Doulton Mode Seasons Decanter Set). The RD website says its ‘crafted of lead crystal’.

    Any input appreciated.

    • The concern is when you store the whisky (or any spirit) in the decanter because the lead can leach into the whisky (source). If you only use the decanter for entertaining (pour it into the leaded crystal decanter for show, but then pour it back into the bottle when you’re done), then it’s OK.

  4. Great article! Is there any way to figure out if a used decanter has lead in it? I suspect that the answer is ‘no.’ Thanks!

  5. Hello, my good friend is about to graduate from college and we’ve always drank the cheap whiskey’s and beer, or whatever we got our hands on. For his graduation I have it planned to get him a very good whiskey or even a scotch and a nice decanter. Is there any suggestions on a good scotch or whiskey that you guys prefer? Also, drinking this expensive stuff, does it actually have a great taste or is it like walking into a bar and taking a shot of a well whiskey or Crown Royal, etc? Any input is appreciated. I’m currently looking into visiting a scotch/whiskey tasting event for my own information but any suggestions with feedback are great.

    • Scotch variety is as diverse in their tastes as beer. You can go from a Corona to a Guinness. Scotch from the Highlands tend to be more sweet and light in flavor compared to scotch from the isles which is heavy in Peat and have more smokey wooded flavors. I’m personally partial to the isles and prefer Laphroaig or Lagavulin.

  6. Jim,

    Is this decanter that you listed lead-free?

    Bormioli Rocco Selecta 33-3/4-Ounce Decanter with Stopper

    I was looking to keep my scotch in it full time for show on my bar.

  7. Great article – I enjoy drinking whiskey and have recently looked at a decanter set. As someone else earlier in the chain said, I am also looking at the Royal Doulton Mode Seasons Decanter set.

    Do you or anyone else know if this is crystal – lead free or otherwise ?

      • Why would you trust Amazon. Another user explicitly mentions that the Royal Doulton website says that the item is “crafted of lead crystal.” It’s possible the person is wrong, but Amazon is wrong about details quite often. I will be contacting Royal Doulton directly about this.

        • I called Royal Doulton’s NA service center. The woman told me that if the Royal Doulton site says “crystalline” (which it does for this item), then it is lead-free. So, there you have it. It’s lead-free.

  8. I am amazed at the ignorance displayed by almost all of you especially, the writer of this piece. Apart from being a Physician (Cardio Thoracic), I am also a PhD in Toxicology. Lead has minimal to no effect on fully grown adults and I presume, most scotch drinkers and commentators to this article are. Lead primarily has debilitating effects on Little Children and Pregnant Women and I am sure, neither of them are suppose to consume alcoholic spirits or disallowed in most of your countries.

    Btw here is the guide for your reference:

    At levels above 80 µg/dL, serious, permanent health damage may occur (extremely dangerous).
    Between 40 and 80 µg/dL, serious health damage may be occuring, even if there are no symptoms (seriously elevated).
    Between 25 and 40 µg/dL, regular exposure is occuring. There is some evidence of potential physiologic problems (elevated).
    Between 10 and 25 µg/dL, lead is building up in the body and some exposure is occuring.

    Most ingestion of lead though decanter and glasses if drunk on regular basis over 22 years straight, will at the most be around 3.5 µg/dL to 5.7 µg/dL.

    I won’t get into the merits and demerits of decanting as, I am not much of a drinker. But, this lead free BS is just that, BS. Wake up and smell the conspiracy.

      • Doesn’t that apply to you as well self proclaimed Scotch-Guru, anybody can be anything on the internet? Btw there is a place in Germany called Stuttgart if you haven’t heard, google it and then google my name.

        Unlike you drunks, I need not hide my identity. I only want. to dispel the wrong notions that are been circulated by fakes & dimwits like you.

        • Yes anyone can be anything but I don’t claim to be a physician or have a phd in toxicology. I’m also telling people to do something 100% safe rather than something with even a minute chance of being harmful. You can’t get hurt if you store whisky in glass and people can verify that on their own. You may be fine with a lead crystal decanter, but I’m saying go with glass to be safe.

          You sure don’t write with a level of class generally associated with physicians and phds, I’ll tell you that.

          • Sometimes, you have to stoop to the level of your audiences to get your message across. I am not a programmed ROBOT to adhere to stereotypes.

            I find all this subtle promotion of your Glassware on Amazon deplorable and feel sorry for gullible who fall for your canard.

            Btw safe, so by what medical definition is Scotch Drinking Safe.? You have me in splits, dude. Literally!!!

          • Well, to be precise you’re advocating drinking alcohol and that is definitely NOT safe. Alcohol, if you don’t know is a poison itself. And, I’m afraid, the amount of alcohol, contained in a decanter, is much more poisonous than any amount of lead that could acquired from a lead crystal decanter.

            I mean, it’s better for your health to drink water from lead crystal decanter than scotch from lead-free decanter.

          • So informative! And with so little condescention! Who woulda ever thunk that someone with a PHD could be so humble? Thank you for your elegant contribution. You’re a gentleman and a scholar, Mr. Schitz.

    • I googled your name. Didn’t find much. Share a link? I’ve been to Stuttgart myself. Pretty place. Your English is impeccible for a non-native speaker.

      • Mike,

        I am not sure if you just dealt me with a underhanded compliment :). I am now in the US of A where English is the Lingua-Franca. Anyways, don’t go by the BS this self proclaimed scotch guru, keeps spouting via his blogs.

        He is just another wannabe who I can bet doesn’t know his Vodka’s from Scotch. When and Where were you in Stuttgart?

        • The aggressive manner in which you wrote your comments is rather unnecessary. Accusing the audience of this site of being a lower class of individuals because they have an appreciation for an alcoholic beverage is simply rude. There is no evidence to suggest that Jim is advertising his own brand of glassware on Amazon, in fact, he advertised two separate brands. And I am quite impressed that you are so entertained by such an unimportant argument that you would ‘literally do the splits’ for no apparent reason. You, Mon amie, are priceless.

        • I think “Dr.” Schatz is full of schitz. No one with an advanced degree thinks the plural of “vodka” is “Vodka’s” (or that “vodka” is capitalized, for that matter).

    • What a douche, Dr. Schitz. How about providing some research to backup your arguments and then folks on the board can make the decision for themselves as informed connoisseurs. For example, the US NIH has an abstract from the Journal of Public Health stating, “The consumption of alcoholic beverages stored in lead crystal decanters is judged to pose a hazard.” (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1694534/). If you can reference reputable research that says otherwise that would be great, as I’m sure many of us on the board spend a lot of potentially wasted time trying to make sure our decanters are safe and we would appreciate the insight of an expert (presuming that’s what you portend to be). Big difference between being a dickhole and actually using your credentials to do some good, which I understand is part of some big oath you MDs take…

  9. I have a question, what exactly do you mean by “tight seal?” The decanters on your pictures don’t look like having ground stoppers. And virtually all decanters I see in stores (even relatively expensive) don’t have them either. Does that mean I have to ground it myself (if so, any practical advise would be appreciated) or how it is is tight enough?

    Or should I put a clear robber ring on the stopper or something like that?

  10. Just curious, you don’t list it, but the decanter and glasses you show in the pic at the top of the piece are stunning, any idea whose product it is?

  11. I would like to get a decanter set for my husband as an anniversary gift and have it engraved. Personal thoughts on engraving a lead-free crystal decanter?

  12. This is a very good article. However, I am very surprised at some of these comments. People need to be educated about how broad the term Whisky is. Scotch, for instance, is a type of Whisky, it’s not Scotch OR Whisky, it’s Scotch Whisky. Whisky is named based on the region it comes from. Bourbon Whisky, for instance is mostly made in Kentucky but can also come from Tennessee. Rye Whisky can be from Canada or the US, then there’s Irish Whisky, Scotch Whisky, made only in Scotland, and of course Moonshine Whisky, I get mine from Tennessee. So there it is; Bourbon, Scotch, Rye, Irish, Moonshine…all fall under the umbrella term WHISKY.

    P.S. There are plenty of women who enjoy Whisky, it’s not just for “gentlemen”.
    Happy tasting!

    • @ Mary – I praise you for the clarification to the general reader in regards to Scotch Whisky. To build on your, “People need to be educated….” snip, you should try to spell whisky correctly. Irish WhiskEy/Tennessee WhiskEy/Bourbon WhiskEy. Scotch, Japanese and Canadian Whisky do not have the ‘E’ in whisky.

      • @”Joey” Wow, how silly of me. Thanks for the clarification. I’m just a foolish woman…thank goodness I have you to set me straight.

        • Mary – Wow, how silly of you. You say people need to be educated yet cant even spell the product correctly.

          P.S. How your incompetence has anything to do with your gender is beyond rational thought.

          • @Mary – Still trying to think up something to write back that isn’t accusing me of sexism in some ridiculous way?

          • lmao, mr. joey really wants an internet fight. hahahahaha oh my god… internet humans always have to have the biggest dick

    • bourbon can be made anywhere in the states. you then have a regional style of whiskey known as Tennessee whiskey which is just bourbon, despite what jack daniels says, think cognac and brandy.

      for rye there are two types, american rye is very different then canadian rye, for instance canadian whiskey and rye are interchangeable, they refer to the same products, and canadian rye doesnt have to be 51% rye like an american rye does.

      for irish whiskey you have a couple types as well, single pot still being the traditional style.

      for scotch you have blends, single malts, single grains, and then blended malts and blended grains. single malts come from one distillery and only barley thats been malted for the grain bill. single grains come from one distillery but also have grain whiskey mixed in or other grains in the bill. blended means it comes from multiple distilleries, and contains both grain and malt whiskey, blended malt means pure malt whiskey. then regional styles.

      you also have japanese whiskey.

      moonshine if its legal is unaged whiskey, home made and or illegal moonshine doesnt necessarily have to be whiskey, often its more like a neutral grain spirit like everclear, this is also whats used in scotch blends usually, a really flavorless whiskey then you use actual good scotch to flavor the shitty stuff like the good stuff. also whats done in canadian whiskey, plus both scotch and canadian whiskey allow for added coloring, but canadian whiskey also allows for flavoring that isnt whiskey or water to be added.

      also for the whisk(e)y debate, thats dependant on distillery as in canada either whisky or whiskey are allowed, same in the states, they have preferred spellings, however any whiskey tradition based on irish whiskey has an e those based on scotch dont. and also some distillers just prefer it the other way.

      for example im canadian yet i use whiskey, mostly because thats how some member is my family spell it, because thats how they learned, from their irish parents. and its a spelling both words are pronounced the same so who gives a flying fuck.

      and remember kids, the only definition of a good whiskey is the one youre drinking now or the one you like you drink. theres no bad whiskey only better whiskey, and the proper way to drink whiskey is the way you enjoy drinking it. though dont go mixing cocktails with super expensive hard to find bottles…..like a pappy van winkle and coke or glenfiddich 40 year old and ginger ale.

      oh and as for decanters, lead free glass may be okay, however that depends entirely on how much lead is in the glass, and it can still fuck with flavor. the best would be something like borosilicate which is laboratory glass, aka pyrex. or quartz crystal. both are used for the consumption of medical weed, and obviously non medical however quartz is used because it doesnt leech anything bad for you specifically because quartz is used for blow torching and then vaporizing hash oils off of, meaning at room temp its even more stable and wont leech. search dabs or bho or hashoil dabs on youtube if you are curious about the vaporization thing, and quartz bangers or nails are what the piece that gets blow torched is called. quartz can also be worked like glass just needs a higher temperature however glass artists around the world are doing bongs pipes and nails/bangers out of it and borosilicate and other artwork, so finding someone making a decanter or some sort of bottle shouldnt be hard and if not a glass blower making these items would easily be able to make you a decanter and have a ground airtight top, or a flame polished air tight top if you prefer. plus going that route also means one off decanter, though it will cost more it would be a one off and colors can be done so help preserve the whiskey or working done to put designs on the bottle.

      if you are really looking for a safe long term storage device, especially as a gift for a loved one then id suggest going the custom route depending on the glass blower you could probably get it done for like 100-200 or maybe even less depending on intricacies. its laboratory grade and safe, and something that can be handed down for generations.

      or k=just find some spirit with a really nice bottle delabel the bottle after its done then find someone who can engrave it and make a glass stopper for it and go the cheap route. or find a used high quality decanter style bottle like that one that comes with that super expensive remy martin cognac or the Hennessy one. or mcallen m.

      and for any decanter you should really also get a solid wood decanter box to protect from light or store it in a dark place or cabinet or something. and also away from any heat. and try to avoid anywhere thatll get drastic tempurature swings or get too cold as that can cause lipids in some whiskeys to turn solid which turns some people off even though its safe and doesnt effect flavor at all.

  13. I like all whiskies, I was looking for a idea on decanters. I am happy with a leaded liquid receptacle long term, if I am going to die of a heavy metal related disease I will more likely blame it on air pollution on the roads or drinking tap water from leaded plumbing as a child from my gran’s flat in Paisley. I appreciate some of the effort that goes into some of these responses, FWS at first, but that soured like a poor bottling. Mary, slàinte mhath.

  14. If this web page were a bar, then the people who comment here are the drinkers. Some come to appreciate the drink and enjoy themselves, and others come to start fights. Looks like some are more drunk than others.

  15. One negative of acquiring a decanter is the reduction in funds to buy whisky. I frankly find it laughable we fret over lead in a world where western women’s breast milk is tainted with so many toxins it would be poisonous to a infant from a more pristine environment. A final observation: Doing business with a company with a 19th century view of their workforce -AMAZON is fine for apolitical Downton Abbey wannabees but not 21st century MEN.

    • You great goon, if I have the good fortune to ever be in a position to purchase a costly/fine/vintage spirit then I don’t want to run the risk of decanting it into anything whatsoever that would lend any taint to it

  16. Doesn’t exposing Scotch Whisky to light slowly degrade the taste and quality of the the drink? Putting it in a decanter as I’ve found does change the taste negatively. After doing some research it makes sense now why most Scotch’s are sold in dark bottles with cardboard sleeves that block the light. A decanter may degrade the taste. Any feedback on this anyone?

  17. Haven’t laughed so much in ages. I’m guessing you guys are American, by the way you pontificate about things and can’t spell (not just whisky). More please!

  18. I still want to know about alcohol evaporation when it comes to not-so-air-tight decanter stoppers. Almost every fancy decanter I’ve seen does not come with an air-tight stopper.

  19. I began reading this thread thinking how nice it was that some still aspired to dignified conversations. Thank you, Jim, for consistently taking the high road on each comment.

  20. You lovely ‘Educated’ folks might like to Try our Tasmanian Whiskey/Whisky sometime! Or should it be known as ‘Twhiskey’? ….

  21. I though whiskey decanters were purposely NOT airtight. I.e. crystal on cristal, or glass on glass, without rubber coatings. Reason being is you WANT the whiskey to breathe, to lose the alcohol edge and develop a deeper flavor.

  22. I have just had a wonderful laugh, reading all your comments whilst indulging in a fine 30 year old single malt. I do not have time to decant it, and if I did it would not be in the decanter long enough to be a problem, even if there was any lead. And as for showing off………none of my friends will even be allowed a sniff, let alone a drink. The bottle stays in the original box, which is wonderful in itself. And I will indulgently enjoy it. I might share a 20 year old, but only with discerning friends. I have four levels of whisky, medicinal as in hot toddy’s with honey, whisky for mixers, malt whisky for sharing, and malt whisy for me, oh and the occassional odd one out, like Glayva, Irish Mist, Jack Daniels, etc, so I suppose that makes five. And as for Gin, well don’t get me started! Would you decant gin?

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